It is a miserable, cold dreich Autumn day in Berlin. I’m looking back at pictures from a summer of travel like no other. I’m time travelling again, as one does in moments of strife. I’m wishing myself back to the start of the journey from Dresden where I was about to jump on the S-Bahn train heading to Radebeul, heart of Germany’s smallest wine region- Saxony.
It was a similar misty, moody day at the end of the summer. South of Dresden, the landscape becomes widescreen, spread out like a Super 8 film and terraced vineyards arch steeply into your view. They stand sturdily upright, protectively framing the terraced landscape, as they’ve done dutifully, for almost the last 700 years. I close my eyes and imagine what the valley would have looked like back in the 12th century. The area had been considered something of an economic backwater, undeveloped and unloved until a senior member of the Catholic Church, Bishop Benno had the grand idea of planting vines there, which legend dictates, was to help cultivate wine for his Holy Mass. An unusual intervention but then again as Europe’s most northern wine growing region, Saxony has always defied the norm. Even when the odds have been stacked against them. After overcoming the steep decline in temperatures that swept Europe in the 18th/19th century (that turned Sachsen wine into a sour, unforgettable mess), in early 19th century, Saxony was hit by the Philoxmena plague that destroyed the vines. That, combined with the fact that large breweries of the time reduced the price of their beer, sounded the death knell of the wine industry. After the barren years of communism, wine making in the region has made a comeback in the post reunification era, thanks to the joint collective efforts of independent winemakers in the region.
Now there’s even a wine route for you to follow and help discover the region. Winding its way for almost 60 km along the Elbe River, the Saxon Wine Hiking Trail was established in 1992 to help hikers discover Germany’s smallest wine growing region. It is a beautiful trail that promises a fantastic mix of beautiful vineyards, cosy traditional wine cellars, historic towns, sophisticated architecture along the river Elbe, between the starting point which is in Pirna and the end in Diesbar-Seußlitz.
There are a number of ways to discover the region, depending on the time of the year and how much time you have on hand. You can tackle the route through individual legs, circular walks, or go for the whole distance. We started in the middle with Radebeul, at the gates of Saxony’s gorgeous baroque capital, Dresden.
Radebeul is a dreamy little town. It has this lovely relaxed laid back vibe, thanks to the impressive hillside vineyard landscape edging up from the Elbe. There are lots of artist workshops, galleries and cute boutique shops to explore plus you have one of the oldest narrow gauge railway lines in Germany, where nostalgia evoking steam trains chug their way to neighbouring Radeberg.
In addition there are a bunch of independent wineries, which form the basis of one of the town’s most popular events, the Radebeul Winefest. Celebrated at the end of September to mark the onset of Autumn, the festival besides marking the initial wine harvest also takes place in parallel with the Internationales Wandertheater Festival (International Itinerant Theatre Festival).
You have an intoxicating combination of Radebeulers chugging down the sweet young Federweisser wine and at the same time art, clowns, musicians and actors turning the cobbled streets into a stage. With all the wineries of the Saxon Wine Route showcasing their wines, it is the perfect introduction to the route.
In what becomes a bit of a ritual in the days to come, I wake up at the crack of dawn to catch the most magical sunrise by the Elbe.The autumn mist hangs mystically in the air creating this cauldron of deep blue smoke. I don’t know whether it’s the hangover still talking (another ritual I would develop over the days to come) but for a few split seconds, the Elbe for a brief moment, seems to rise above me, serpent like, into the hazy morning sky.
The mist lifts, sky breaks to reveal the most glorious Autumnal sunny morning. My head, still aches from all that delicious Federweisser so it’s perfect timing to head to one of the wine route’s most famous and popular wineries, Schloss Wackerbarth.